In our time-starved, stressed-out lives, commuting is at the top of the list of chronic stressors. Whether we drive, carpool, take a bus, train, or plane, it's all stressful and probably one of the least favorite things we have to do. Consider these facts.
The average travel time to work in the United States is 25.4 minutes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For many of us, commuting is a very stressful time full of issues like traffic jams, crowded trains, delays, and angry fellow commuters. The longer the commute, the higher the anxiety level and that may even elevate your blood pressure, according to a 2014 report from the U.K.'s Office of National Statistics.
People who drive or take public transportation have less time to enjoy daily activities and tend to have more trouble concentrating (Wheatly, 2014). Researchers have also found that longer car commutes result in people scoring lower on measures of well-being (Wheatly, 2014).
The average American spends more than one-third of their life in front of a computer, smartphone, or TV. This focus causes us to train our brain to narrow our field of vision. Because of this, it makes activities, like driving, even more dangerous. When we are not aware of the environment around us, it opens us up to risks that are outside our narrow field of vision.
OUR MINDS ARE ELSEWHERE
Hopefully, we are all aware mobile phone use, texting, or manipulating the car stereo, eating, and many other forms of distractions while driving are all dangerous distractions. That said, our wandering attention may be just as dangerous, stressful and distracting. Mind wandering is defined as any time our attention is focused on something other than our targeted task and often occurs when we can perform a task without an intentional focus.
In other words, when the performance of the task becomes automatic like driving, researchers have found that our mind wanders more than 50% of the time (Kane, et al., 2007; Killingsworth and Gilbert (2010). Additionally, we are more likely to allow our mind to wander on familiar roads and when we are getting closer to home (Bridget, et al., 2016). Many of us arrive at work with little memory of getting there.
Our minds are busy planning our day, worrying, and day dreaming, and we don't even notice what is going on around us. While the distraction might appear to be relaxing, research has shown that it adds to our stress (Office for National Statistics, 2014).
Instead of multitasking and allowing your attention to wander, how about making your commute a mindfulness practice? By staying engaged in the moment throughout your commute not only will you arrive safely and less stressed, but you have also taken steps to rewire your brain to be more mindful throughout your day.
Bridget, R. D., Burdett, Samuel G., Charlton, Nicola, & Starkey, J. (2016). Not all minds wander equally: The influence of traits, states and road environment factors on self-reported mind wandering during every day driving. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 95, 1-7.
Kane, M. J., Brown, L.H., McVay, J. C., Silvia, P.J. Myin-Germeys, I. Kwapil, T. R. (2007). For whom the mind wanders, and when; an experience-sampling study of working memory and executive control in daily life. Psychological Science, 18(7), 614-621.
Killingsworth, M. A. & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330 (6006), 932-932.
Wheatley, D. (2014). Travel-to-work and subjective well-being: A study of UK dual career households. Journal of Transport Geography, 39, 187-196. doi:10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2014.07.009
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